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Pinching Pennies, U.K.’s Cameron Goes Commercial on U.S. Trip

David Cameron, U.K. prime minister
David Cameron, U.K. prime minister, listens during a joint news conference with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, on July 20, 2010. Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

July 22 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. politicians may dream of one day sinking into the presidential bed aboard Air Force One. David Cameron, returning last night from his first trip to the U.S. as British prime minister, took a business-class seat on board a scheduled British Airways flight.

Cameron, trying to cut Britain’s deficit, its largest since World War II, is scaling back on the chartered jets his predecessors used for overseas travel and told his staff to book him on regular flights. Yesterday he traveled to New York from Washington on Amtrak’s Acela train.

“We have got a lot of money to save,” the prime minister told ABC News July 20. “We’ve got a very big budget deficit, so we can’t go spending money on executive planes, sadly.”

While Cameron’s office estimates it is saving several hundred thousand pounds by forgoing chartered jets, that isn’t the only consideration. His party fought the May 6 general election arguing “We’re all in this together.”

Cameron, whose ancestors include King Henry VII and at least seven earls, is seeking to avoid the perception of splashing public money around on travel when he’s cutting welfare payments to the poor.

“He just wants to show that, in every aspect of his life, his behavior is exemplary,” said Bill Jones, a professor of politics at Liverpool Hope University. “He’s overdoing it, he’s over-spinning. People don’t expect him to travel on his bike.”

Protection Squad

Secret Service agents and officers from Amtrak Police’s Special Operations Unit joined Cameron’s British Special Branch protection squad for the three-hour train journey. Two of the train’s four business-class cars were sealed off, one for Cameron’s team and a second for traveling press.

“I hope you’re all fans of ‘The Wire’,” Cameron joked to reporters when the train passed through Baltimore, referring to the TV series that stars Dominic West, a friend of his wife, Sam. As the train crossed the Susquehanna River in Maryland, he paused from his briefing to admire the view.

The austerity program has had its hiccups. Thirty years after the BBC comedy series “Yes Minister” first aired an episode titled “The Economy Drive,” in which fictional politician Jim Hacker gives up his ministerial limousine only to discover that security rules mean his paperwork still has to travel by car, the same scenes were played out in reality.

Education Secretary Michael Gove’s wife, Sarah, revealed in a newspaper column that while he, like all ministers in the new government, now travels to and from work on public transport, his documents “must arrive in air-conditioned splendor, snug and secure in the back of a locked car.”

Minding Amtrak’s rail cars was assistant conductor Dominic Lombardi, who said this was a change from his usual clientele.

“The most important passenger I ever had?” he said. “For me, it was Frank Robinson,” the star outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles in the 1960s and early 1970s.

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Hutton at rhutton1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net.

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